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I’m so excited to begin the conversation about gauge. When I first started knitting and crocheting I didn’t even know gauge was a thing. Now I know that gauge is a complex and important topic.
Since this is such a complex topic I will be covering it in detail over several posts and in several videos, I hope you’ll check them out. It is my goal to deepen your knowledge so you can be confident that every time you gauge swatch, you’re doing it as accurately as possible. This will help you have the best finished projects possible.
What is Gauge
First we must cover what gauge is. In terms of a definition, gauge is pretty simple.
Gauge, as it relates to yarn craft, is the height and width of a group of stitches. Gauge is usually measured in 1″, 2″, or 4″ measurements, but read the pattern carefully as some measurements are not standard. Gauge is written as
____ stitches x ____ rows or rounds = 4″.
Things to Watch For
To be sure that you’re meeting gauge in the most accurate way, you must work your swatch in the same way the designer worked their swatch. The first thing to look for is if the gauge is listed in rows, then the gauge swatch is worked flat. If gauge is listed in rounds, then the gauge swatch is worked in the round. Since stitches can behave differently when worked flat or in the round, it is an important distinction to make.
The second thing to notice is that gauge can also be measured either blocked or unblocked. If this is not listed in the pattern, you could email the designer and ask. If you don’t want to do that I recommend you treat your gauge swatch the same way you intend to treat your final project. If you don’t plan on blocking your project, don’t block your swatch. If you are going to block your final project, blocking your swatch will give you the most accurate information.
Third, be sure to notice if there are multiple gauges listed. It is important that your gauge matches all the listed gauges. You will need to swatch for all the listed gauges to ensure a good fit. You may end up using different hooks to meet different gauges. That’s ok, just be sure to take good notes so you remember that hooks you use for the different parts of the pattern.
When I first started measuring my gauge, I always used a tape measure. Now, this is my least favorite way to measure my gauge. No matter which tool you use, always measure on a hard, flat surface.
Gauge Ruler: These are worth the investment. They make measuring gauge so much easier especially if the swatch rolls. I prefer one with a ruler on two sides so I can measure stitches and rows at the same time.
Ruler: The rigidity of a ruler helps keep a swatch flat when measuring.
Tape measure: The flexibility of a tape measure makes it harder to accurately measure but will work in a pinch.
When to Gauge Swatch
It can be super tempting to think of gauge as an unnecessary extra step that keeps you from getting to your final project. I would encourage you to think of it as a tool to help you get the very best finished project possible. There are definitely times that you don’t need to meet gauge perfectly. But there are other times it’s important. There are two main reasons to check gauge: fit and knowing how much yarn you’ll need to make your project.
Fit is obviously critical for garment making. If you’ve ever made a sweater that ends up too big or too small to actually wear, you know why. Ill fitting garments are most often the result of a mismatch in gauge.
When you’re looking for a very specific fit, the more the accuracy of gauge comes into play. If you want a sweater that fits in a very specific way, your gauge needs to match the pattern as closely as possible. The more stitches in the project and the bigger the difference between your gauge and the pattern’s stated gauge, the more the fit will be off. It’s always good to keep in mind that if you have more stitches in your gauge swatch, your fit will be smaller than stated in the pattern. If your gauge swatch has fewer stitches, your fit will be larger than stated in the pattern.
Gauge is not just important in making garments. If your gauge is off, hats can be too snug or short, scarves can end up too short and skinny or extra long and wide. Really, anything can be the wrong size. Even in patterns where fit isn’t critical like a blanket or table runner, a difference in gauge will change the size of the final project. You could end up with a baby blanket instead of a throw. Your table runner could be tiny or big enough to cover a banquet table. Either way, the end result can be disappointing, or worse, unusable. While gauge swatching can seem like a waste of time, it can save you time and heartbreak in the long run.
Oh so many tears have been shed (or curse words been muttered) by crafters who ran out of yarn before they finished their project and couldn’t get more! The fact that gauge plays a critical role in how much yarn you need for a project is often overlooked. But even if your gauge is very close to the pattern’s stated gauge, you may end up using a little more or less yarn than the designer recommends. If you don’t know whether the total yardage listed for the pattern includes a gauge swatch, ask the designer or get some extra yarn.
There’s nothing worse than getting to the end of a big project and not having enough yarn. Many crafters have gone on a frantic search for a discontinued colorway to finish a project. Almost equally as frustrating is having spent a bunch of money on yarn you don’t need and can no longer return. While I would argue that it’s easier to return yarn you don’t need – keep those receipts – it’s still not ideal, especially since a gauge swatch could have saved you the trouble.
Keep in mind, if your gauge swatch has fewer stitches than stated in the pattern, you will be more likely to run out of yarn. If you have more stitches in your gauge swatch than stated in the pattern, you are more likely to have extra yarn. If you decided to go ahead with a gauge that doesn’t exactly match the pattern, keep this in mind, and make sure you have enough yarn to complete your project.
When Swatching Is a Must
Never skip gauge swatching when fit is super important. Accuracy in gauge is so important to fit. It’s also important to have an accurate gauge when you might be cutting it close on the amount of yarn you have, and it isn’t easy to get more. The further off your gauge, the more you risk not having the correct amount of yarn.
When It’s OK to Skip
Yes, sometimes it’s totally ok so skip doing a gauge swatch! If fit isn’t at all important – a simple scarf, a blanket that you don’t care what size it is, you’re probably ok to skip gauge swatching. If you have plenty of yarn and could easily get more if you run out, skipping swatching could be ok. If you choose to skip swatching, it’s still not a bad idea to measure your project as you work to make sure it’s not too far off the intended measurements.
I hope this post has started to grow your understanding of what gauge is, when and why it is important. Again, this is just the beginning of the conversation. I hope you’ll read on, or watch more of my videos on YouTube to help deepen your understanding! Don’t forget to snag your free Gauge Swatch Info Sheet! It have lots of helpful tips and reminders about swatching and a place to keep track of all your swatching notes and measurements! Super helpful!
Often the first step in making the perfect gauge swatch is making a good yarn substitution. You can read more about yarn substitution and get another free printable here!